Library staff discovered two swastikas drawn in yellow chalk on one of the Iwasaki Library’s pillars. The pillars were recently painted with chalkboard paint so students could interact with one another, according to Robert Fleming, executive director of the library.
Between 4:30 and 5 p.m. on Friday, library staff found the symbols on the pillar across from the Service Desk. One was a right-facing swastika and one a left-facing swastika, according to a photograph of the vandalism. The right-facing swastika is representative of the Nazi party, while the left-facing image is linked to Hinduism and Buddhism and represents the presence of God and strength.
On Monday, Ronald Ludman, the dean of students, sent an email alerting students and staff of the incident.
“I know most of you will share my upset and anger upon learning about this cowardly and ugly act,” Ludman wrote. “There is no room for such hurtful and odious forms of expression on our campus — such behavior runs counter to our core values and who we are as a community.”
In an emailed statement to the Beacon, Ludman said the Emerson College Police Department is continuing to investigate the incident.
According to the student handbook, a person who commits an act of vandalism on the college campus will be reported to the dean’s office. At that time, the dean and his staff members will review the case and make an assessment on a punishment.
This is not the first time racially and religiously-charged messages have appeared on campus. Last February, the N-word appeared on an elevator in the Little Building alongside the phrase “Black people, Jews, and Christians.” A week later, the message “wake up white America” was found written on the mirror in the men’s restroom in the library.
But, Sylvia Spears, the vice president of diversity of inlcusion, said this is the first time such an act has occured so early into the semester in her history at the college. Spears was hired in 2012.
“These things happen on college campuses, I know that,” said Spears. “But this timing is unusual. It’s only the third week of school.”
Spears said she, staffers in the Office of Diversity and Inclusion, and senior administrators at the college are discussing a plan of action in response to the graffiti. Last semester, the Office of Diversity and Inclusion and the Division of Student Affairs hosted several diversity education programs after the incidents.
Spears said she believes hosting positive events—focusing on diversity rather than how negative graffiti could be hurtful—will be more effective, but no events have been scheduled yet.
“Sometimes it’s more powerful to assert things that are right,” she said.
Spears said she has spoken to a few students about the vandalism, and these individuals found it offensive.
“Students say they absolutely reject it,” she said. “It’s insulting and it undermines our message.”
Josh Rifkin, a Jewish freshman visual and media arts major, said he feels the act was disrespectful.
“I think they had some sort of targeted intent,” he said.
Chloe McAlpin, a freshman writing, literature, and publishing major, said she thought it was immature.
“It seems like a middle school crime in a liberal college environment,” she said.
Fleming said he was upset to find that the columns, which were redesigned to help bring the community together, were defaced.
“It was not our goal to give a platform for hurtful language,” he said.
Fleming said he suspects the vandal wrote on the pillar while the student employee from the Service Desk was helping a visitor to the library. At the time of the graffiti that student was the only staffer working, he said.
“Between 4:30 and 5 on Friday is not a popular time at the library,” he said.
Fleming said when the library staff decided to create the chalk display, he worried something like this would happen. If more acts of vandalism continue, the installation will be removed, he said.
“If people can’t respect the community,” he said, “we’ll paint the columns gray and take away the chalk.”